AFTER JESUS FLIPPED THE TABLES of merchants at the Jerusalem Temple, he tore into the religion leaders but good.
To some readers, he might even sound uncharacteristically mean-spirited.
Not like himself and all.
In fact, beside himself.
I was working yesterday paraphrasing Matthew 23 for the Casual English Bible. It’s the chapter I’m calling “Hypocrites in high places.”
Take a look at some of the things he says about the religion scholars known as scribes, along with the Pharisees. See if it doesn’t leave you wondering the same thing I wondered: What got Jesus this mad?
“Whenever they do something that makes them look religious, they do it for the audience; they’re putting on a show” (23:5).
“You hypocrites. You confiscate the property of widows, cheating them out of their homes. Then you have the nerve to go out in public and pray long prayers so people will compliment you. When it comes time to punish you, you’ll get something extra” (23:14).
“You’ll travel far and wide over land and sea to win a single convert. Then you’ll turn that person into a son of Satan who’s twice as bad as you are” (23:15).
“You’re like a garden graveyard, manicured and presentable on the surface. Down deep, you’re full of dead men’s bones and rotting guts that pollute the dirt” (23:27).
“On the outside, you look religious and goodhearted. But inside you are full of hypocrisy and broken laws” (23:28).
After I finish paraphrasing the chapter, I create discussion questions and responses for a leader’s guide.
I’m now trying to figure out an answer to this question:
- If words alone could pick someone up and throw them on the ground, the words Jesus uses to describe the religion scholars would do just that. Why is he so vicious?
I’m still working up an answer, but see what you think about what I have so far:
These spiritual leaders are supposed to be pointing people to God. But they are pointing people to themselves. They are taking on the role of God by making and enforcing rules they expect people to live by. And they demand the kind of devotion and obedience and praise that God deserves.
In a sense, these religion scholars and spiritual leaders are walking, talking idols that are leading people away from God. Jesus came to counter that. He came to introduce the Kingdom of Heaven to people who didn’t know about it. And he came to lead people to God. Jesus had no alternative but to shred the religion leaders who were turning Jews into sons of Satan.
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